Friday, November 11, 2011

Cleaning up with the help of Controls

WHILE James Murdoch was denying he knew anything about how his Dad's firm's hacks hacked into people's private communications, and Home Secretary Theresa May was denying responsibility for Border Controls officers being told to reduce passport checks, I was almost nostalgic for the days when Labour was in office and ministers were automatically held accountable -by the Murdoch press among others - for every file that went astray in the post. Nobody asked why Her Majesty's mail was being carried by private couriers.

In those days too the Home Secretary was ridiculed for being unable to say exactly how many illegal immigrants there were in Britain. I could not see how people who had somehow managed to sneak in illegally were supposed to be counted, and to hear the papers you'd think they knew where they lived, but I was never that good at maths, not even the flexible sort called statistics.

But with Labour trying to beat the Tories at their own game by chasing Theresa May over immigrants and borders, a friend has questioned the pretence that this is about "security", He asked innocently how many terrorist attacks in Britain in recent decades have been carried out by people who were here "illegally"?

"Not many", is I think the most generous answer.

But surely that is not the point. We may have had buildings and transport bombed by Irish Republicans, UK -born Muslims (and Zionists if you go back to the 1940s) and supposedly "lone wolf" members of the British Far Right, but if you are recruiting people to build, look after and clean them, that's where the "illegals" come in.

But it is the control system which makes people "illegal", and helps make the business work.

Cleaning is an oustanding, albeit not unique, example. From prestigious City banks to hospitals, colleges, and trains, the work is put out to companies which bid for cheapness by employing people who are desperate for the work. These workers can expect neither the pay and conditions nor security obtained by inhouse staff. But then they try to better their position a bit by organising and joining a union. That's when the employer or agency starts to look for excuses to get rid of someone, or takes an interest in their passports, and the border police show up. By sheer coincidence, of course

In June 2009, ISS. the company employing cleaning staff at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) called all its staff to a meeting in a ground floor room at 7 am one morning. When they were assembled more than 40 police in full riot gear entered by fire doors and the main entrance and surrounded the workers.

They cleaners were locked in the room and then led one by one into another room, where their immigration status was checked during which they had no representation or even a translator (many staff are native Spanish speakers). A lot of the cleaners were in emotional distress. A trade union representative was refused access to the staff.

The raid was instigated by the cleaning contractor ISS who requested the police action. (Ironically ISS had won this contract from another company which was not paying a living wage). Two members of SOAS management were present during the raid liasing with the police. Nine cleaners, five of them UNISON members were taken into detention. One detained cleaner was six months pregnent, she collapsed during the events. Five of those detained were already being put on planes and returned to poverty and possible persecution in South America within a few days of arrest, and while SOAS students and fellow trade unionists were meeting to protest.

A current case concerns John Laing Integrated Services. Known as a major building contractor, Laing has expanded into numerous niches in the public sector (which we were always told is not "wealth creating". ) John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) boasts that it "provides a full suite of operational services to public sector clients, including local authorities, education, rail, police, fire and rescue, health and cultural services. We are also at the forefront of outsourcing for library services, being the only private sector organisation running and directly employing library professionals in the UK. Our approach is based on providing a fully integrated solution to the management of services and facilities. We develop management solutions that enable our clients to focus on their core business, whilst delivering first class services to their customers."

John Laing Integrated Services is managing library modernisation in the London Borough of Hounslow and services at several London police stations, as well as the public order and firearms training centre at Gravesend.

It also runs cleaning on London Overground railways. And as the RMT rail union announced recently:

"RMT CLEANERS have forced contractor John Laing Integrated Services to recognise the union on London Overground following an organising campaign that has seen the vast majority of the workforce join the union since the end of March.
A ballot carried out under Central Arbitration Committee rules after the firm refused to enter into a voluntary agreement returned a six-to-one vote to give RMT bargaining rights for the staff, who work from depots at Acton, Gospel Oak, New Cross Gate and Willesden.
The union has been waging a long-term campaign to win better terms for transport cleaners who have seen their pay and working conditions squeezed massively by hard-nosed sub-contractors since rail privatisation 15 years ago".

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said:
“Our reps at John Laing deserve massive credit for a determined organising campaign that began only in March, supported by organisers and activists from across the RMT family".

The sequel wasn't long in coming, as RMT activist Steve Hedley reports. over 30 workers were rounded up by the border cops, in collusion with the company.

"These workers were told by their managers to come in to do overtime. When staff said that they did not wish to do this overtime the managers became insistent. Instead of being given overtime they were hauled in by Border Agency agents. These workers now believe that there was never any overtime for them to do and John Laing is clearly complicit in this disgraceful operation.

"The incident occurred on October 25. Among those rounded up was one of the RMT representatives who was handed over as ‘the RMT Rep’ by management. Further evidence of John Laing complicity – if further evidence was needed – comes from payslips where the pay of those who were to be detained had been stopped in advance and when workers arrived with company vehicles there were staff there ready to take these vehicles off them and drive them back to the depot".

RMT members and supporters will be lobbying:

John Laing Headquarters

Arlington House

150 Victoria Street, opposite Victoria station

Wednesday November 16 8 am -10am

Most of those detained have now been released. Despite this a John Laing manager has said that none of those who had been detained will be re-employed.A number have not yet been released and may even face deportation. The RMT will assist these members legally and will be part of any fight back against deportation

The Union is conducting an inquiry into these events and John Laing’s complicity in them. It says it will fight to get the members back to their workplace. "The Border Agency was used against members on LUL and Network Rail after RMT won the London Living wages. We saw them off there and will see them off here as well."


THESE actions concern human beings, not statistics, and decent workers, not the kind of stereotype depicted in the tabloid media. Here is a footnote about one of them.

Marciano Flora is a cleaner on London Overground, working for the contractor John Laing. The Home Office wants to deport Marciano. But he, his family and his workmates want him to stay in London. Please support our campaign.

Marciano Flora is 42 years of age. He came to London in October 2006, invited by his brother-in-law to work as a plumber in his company. He had a five-year working visa.

His brother-in-law describes him as “such a hard worker, who never complained, and got on well with our clients.” Unfortunately, the business went into liquidation in December 2009 due to the recession.

Marciano immediately looked for another job, and began working for John Laing as a cleaner in March 2010. He showed all his details, including his passport, and was assured that it was legal to work in this job.

Within six months working for John Laing, Marciano was nominated for an ‘employee of the month’ award. He is hardworking and popular at work, and actively involved in his church.

On Tuesday 25 October 2011, John Laing told several of its employees to carry out cleaning duties, and then gathered them inside a school hall for the UK border police to arrest them. Marciano had applied for leave to remain in the UK before his visa was due to expire in October, and has a receipt letter from the Home Office that this application is being processed. He explained this to the officers, but they arrested him. He is now being held in a detention centre in Dover, and has been told that he must leave the country by Wednesday 9 November.

Marciano Flora is very much settled here in London. He lives with his sister and brother-in-law, and has a very close relationship with them and their two daughters, Chloe and Chanelle.Marciano is a member of the RMT trade union. The union is helping Marciano to fight this unjust deportation, and we need your help.

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